Three: Mother of All Whammies

BEN BANTAM stumbled out of the capsule, barely able to stand.

It was twilight: the edge of evening.  That alone was weird: it had been morning seconds ago.   He blinked at the sky.  A dazzling full moon hung there, partially obscured by a shoulder of cloud.

Beneath this sky, and perhaps more importantly, men surrounded him.  Army men.  But like no Army men he had ever seen.  They were all clad in some kind of body armor.  It was like they were covered in soup bowls, or large scales that slid around gracefully to accommodate their motions.

And yet, this body armor was also a military uniform.  It most resembled a Union uniform from the Civil War in coloring and placement of shiny buttons and buckles and yellow cords and trim on a base of deep blue.  And their helmets had bits of silver and yellow feather.

They brandished silver and black guns.  These, too, were odd, but there was no mistaking the barrel and trigger and what that implied.  

“Ho there!  More light!  Get a naphtha on him!”

Somewhere nearby, there was a sharp hiss.  Another floodlight blinded Bantam.  It was an odd light … almost like a gas lamp, Bantam thought.  It had the feel of flame.

This is not MacLaren, Bantam thought with a sinking feeling.  Nothing looked right, nothing looked like the pictures they’d shown him, that he’d studied endlessly.  Something had gone wrong, something had been miscalculated …

Or was this some secret project?  Perhaps records of these armored suits had been lost along with the cure for the Shadow …?

“Hands up!” someone barked.  “You in the spacesuit!  Hands in the air, or prepare for a proper dewskitch!”

Spacesuit, Bantam mouthed.  That was interesting.  They recognized what he was wearing — or thought they did.

He tried to raise his hands, but found he was too weak.  His legs wobbled and he fell to the ground.  
The Army men jumped nervously.  “By Perdition!” one of them snarled.  

“Don’t shoot!  I’m just … dizzy,” Bantam yelled, or tried to yell.  He was surprised by the lack of power in his voice.  It barely projected past the end of his nose.   He felt like a phantom: insubstantial.

Yet, it must have been enough.  One of the Army guys — the Commander, it appeared — heard him.  “What’s that you say?  Dizzy?  As in a Scaldrum dodge, I’ll wager!  Then don’t move!  Am I clear?”

The time travel … or whatever had actually happened … had made him dangerously exhausted.  

“Yes,” Bantam said, as loudly as he could.  “Don’t shoot.  I’m not your enemy.”

“We’ll see, we’ll see,” the Commander said dubiously.  “Fitzhenry!  Kindly remove his helmet!  I want to see the face of this magsman!”

Fitzhenry, Bantam repeated, sifting through the brain static.  Fitzhenry … Fitzhenry …  There was no Fitzhenry stationed at MacLaren in 1944.   Bantam knew the duty roster by heart.  It was yet another one of the endless details they’d made him study …

Fitzhenry stepped forward and several other men moved closer and stuffed their gun barrels in his ribcage.  “No funny business,” Fitzhenry warned.  “Now — how do I get this off?”

“There’s a latch in the back,” Bantam said, his voice raspy now.  He was getting weaker.  “You just unhook — oh there you go.  You got it.”

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